Preparing for Winter

Contrary to popular belief, pipes don't burst at the point where water freezes. Generally, the failure occurs somewhere between the freeze point and a closed faucet. Winterize your home plumbing, stop frozen pipes before they happen, and prevent expensive water damage by following these few simple actions.

1. Pipe insulation

Your pipes are more susceptible to freezing damage when temperatures drop below 20° F. Pipe insulation provides your first line of defense against cold temperatures and frozen pipes. In Batavia, the average low temperature is 16°F beginning in December, and temperatures drop from there in January and February. For pipe winterization, add a thicker layer of insulation around your pipes.

Insulate the pipes in all unheated areas, as they are most likely to freeze. A hardware or plumbing supply store should have the insulation and tools you need. Wrap the pipes in insulation tubes made of polyethylene or fiberglass. Measure the outside diameter of your pipes to make sure you purchase the correct size of tube. Take extra care with pipes that have frozen during previous winters or have been repaired in the last 12 months, as these pipes are more susceptible to damage. Wrapping pipes in heat-tape prior to insulating adds an extra layer of protection, but make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions when using heat-tape to avoid damage.

2. Keep a dripping faucet

On nights when the temperature is expected to drop below 20°F, turn on faucets along the exterior walls to create a small, steady drip. This eliminates pressure that can build between the faucet and an ice blockage, so even if a pipe freezes, it may not burst.

3. Open cabinets

You can stop frozen pipes by introducing more heat. Open all sink-based cabinet doors that are along exterior walls to allow more heat to reach the pipes.

4. Fix exterior cracks

Note any cracks or holes along the outside walls and foundation of your home. Filling holes and cracks with spray foam insulation and caulking can help stop the cold air from coming into contact with your water pipes during extremely cold weather.

5. Seal off crawl space

Pier and beam homes with ventilated crawl spaces should be sealed against the cold weather. Cover your vents with heavy-duty pieces of cardboard cut to fit the vents, duct taping the cardboard in place. Don't forget to seal off access to the crawl space. If you have a basement, look for cracked basement windows that could allow cold air to make contact with pipes. Check for worn or missing insulation around garage and utility doors. Reducing the amount of cold air in the area minimizes your pipes' vulnerability to freezing.

If your pipes do freeze

What if your pipes still freeze, despite your best preventive measures? First step: Don't panic. Just because they're frozen doesn't mean they've already burst. Here's what you can do:

• If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.

• Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water. You could be electrocuted.

• Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame because it could cause a fire hazard. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house! It is best to thaw the line slowly to prevent pipe splitting.

• You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe using a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.

• If your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on. Familiarize yourself, and make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.

Before you leave town

Don’t forget to think about your pipes before you leave.

• Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55°F.

• Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing.

• Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.